When two diva’s take to the court for the women’s final of this year’s Australian Open, fans should be provided with enough drama to last us until Roland Garros.
In this corner, weighing in at — dare I say — 135 lbs*, Ms. Serena Williams.
Serena’s move through the draw over the past two weeks has garnered much attention. The major point of debate being whether Williams’ success at the Australian Open is either making a complete joke of women’s tennis, or proving that if she’d train like her counterparts, she’d be the best player ever.
Serena arrived in Melbourne looking like her strength and conditioning program centered around a strict diet of Roscoe’s Chicken and Waffles. Coming off a horrible loss to Sybille Bammer in Hobart, many people figured we were looking at ’06 Serena — a third rounder at best.
Somehow, that distant memory doesn’t even seem to matter anymore. She moved through the draw by beating people down, often without mercy!
The past two years have also shown us that we are dealing with, in fact, two different Serena’s: Crazy Serena (CS), and Wimpy Serena (WS).
We all know CS very well. CS doesn’t just try to beat her opponent; she tries to beat the living daylights out of her opponent. CS thrives on the opportunity to contort her face, grunt, scream, and ball up her fist at you in a way that makes you wonder if she’ll hop across the net, snatch your racquet away from your limp fingers, and beat you over the head with it.
I, for one, adore CS. She’s not only great TV, but when faced with a durable opponent, shows us some great tennis. I’m also convinced that CS takes “Richard Pills”, and will soon be telling the press that she’s buying the Statue of Liberty and turning it into an amusement park.
WS, on the other hand, made her official WTA debut in 2006. You know when WS has come out to play not just by the scoreboard, but by her furrowed brow. Not much needs to be said about her. WS often plays on cruise-control, in a zen-like trance, making you somehow think that she’s in the stadium somewhere, but doesn’t really focus on the points slipping from her until she grimaces in pain — just after she’s realized she’s just shanked a backhand into some poor suckers tenth row seat.
Dual personality aside, Serena brings with her the made-for-television speculation that her camp is providing refuge to a shaggy haired Aussie assasin. Honed through years of elementary school training, this master of light was said to have been specially brought in from his regular assignment of burning the Williams’ family personal ant colony with a magnifying glass. His expertise is so professional, that even her opponent was unaware of his stealth attempt.
If you’ve not seen Channel 7′s stunning expose on the evidence, take a moment to do so now.
The other side of the net brings us the soon-to-be world number one, Ms. Maria Sharapova, who stunned Williams in the 2004 Wimbledon final, when Sharapova was just 17.
The last time Sharapova and Williams met was on Rod Laver Arena during the semifinals in 2005. You may recall that Sharapova served for the match in the second and third sets and held three match points at 5-4 in the third; but Williams still won, and went on to take the trophy.
But that was then.
Upon examination, Maria’s position is strikingly similar to that of her opponent just a scant few years ago. From the specially-made Nike dresses she sports on court for each Slam, to the multi-million dollar endorsements that just seem to keep growing, to the outrageous grunts, and the “over eager” patriarch sitting on the sidelines creating his own scene; one could say that Sharapova has plagarized an entire chapter from the Williams’ sisters IMG manual.
But besides her number 1 seeding, and her lingering US Open title, Sharapova always brings with her the notion that despite a major gaff, she’ll at least move into the quarterfinals; when things always seem to get a little dicey. Once she passed the hump of almost passing out in the first round from the heat, Masha didn’t really seem to have a time of it down under.
She readily dispatched her opponents with an order of business reality. From the second round until her semifinal against Kim Clijsters, there was no drama or excitement in Maria’s matches, she was just…winning. The only thing fans had to hope for is that a shaky serve would be her undoing.
But all of a sudden a smiling Maria would appear at the net, offering her thanks to her opponent, waving to the crowd, and then she was into the finals.
With the legacy of Banana-gate burned into our memories forever, not to mention a predictable $2,565 fine for illegal coaching during her quarterfinal with Anna Chakvetadze, the cameras will also be firmly fixed on Yuri Sharapov and Michael Joyce. Illegal coaching seems to be the Sharapova box raison d’etre, and bizarely somehow gives justification to the WTA’s on-court coaching program.
But despite the famous line that her “life is not about a banana”, what Maria seemed to really gain from that — pardon the pun — ‘fruitful’ experience, is proof that confidence and mental toughness can affirmatively rally her back to outlast her opponents and pull her through. That assumption was never quite as clear before.
My money’s on Sharapova to become the first Russian woman to win the singles title at the Australian Open, in a thriller of a 3-setter.
One final bit of advice: It would certainly behoove Tennis Australia to take advantage of this opportunity to provide those in Rod Laver with special grunt-dampening ear plugs. …Just in case CS decides to turn up.
And I hope she does.
* Statistic provided by the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour website. Since much of the media section hasn’t been updated since November, 2006, who knows when the player data was updated.
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Clijsters Back in French Open Women’s Preview; American Tennis Pile-on